Posts Tagged ‘World War II’


Maritime Day 2015

May 21, 2015

Two days ago I started a long-term sub job for a middle school math teacher who took paternity leave to help his wife after her C-section. I will finish out the year for him. Let’s just say that this is in the middle of standardized testing and these students have already taken their respective math tests. AND THE INMATES ARE RESTLESS! Even with lesson plans (sadly many students mistakenly believed they were getting 17 days of free-for-all) I do have some time to fill … so I thought about my annual Maritime Day public service announcement. But this is a math class… how could I make it fit the subject? and proponents of the merchant marine receiving veteran status have always touted that the MM had the highest casualty percentage of any service in World War II (though prior to 2006 this claim was always tempered with “2nd only to the Marine Corps”). In my search for casualty numbers and total in service I learned through that recent research has found more data on the merchant vessels and crews lost. So I have amended my article and created a cross-multiply math problem (you could of course just simple divide the numerator by the denominator and move the decimal point over two to get the percentage…) and yes, T2 had to explain to me how it was done. (Why they thought it was a good idea to hire me, I don’t know!)


Our nation has a little-known national holiday this week: National Maritime Day—a day set aside to honor those civilians who gave their lives for freedom upon the high seas. Because members of the U.S.-flagged Merchant Marine are civilians, most Memorial Day celebrations only give cursory mention of these heroes. As a result, National Maritime Day is their day.

Established by a joint resolution of Congress on May 20, 1933, National Maritime Day is May 22 of each year. The day was selected to honor the first successful trans-Atlantic crossing by a steamship, S.S. Savannah, which set sail from the United States on May 22, 1819. The president of the United States issues a proclamation each year, calling for observance of the holiday. Each U.S.-flagged vessel is sent the proclamation, acknowledging the continued service of the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine. On April 4, 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a proclamation adding that observances of National Maritime Day include flying the American flag on homes and all government buildings.

The U.S. Maritime Administration, a branch of the Department of Transportation, holds a memorial service—the only national memorial service that honors those American seafarers who lost their lives in service to their country. American seafarers have been involved in defense of the nation since 1776 to the present. In World War II alone, over 1,000* American vessels were sunk, and over 9,500** merchant seamen and officers were lost as a result of enemy action and war-related causes. Members of Congress, leaders from maritime labor and management, and government all participate in this memorial service.

*A Careless Word — a Needless Sinking: A History of the Staggering Losses Suffered by the U.S. Merchant Marine, both in Ships and Personnel, during World War II, American Merchant Marine Museum, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., 1983 to 1998. Captain Moore’s book lists approx. 990 ships. list includes 1,600 ships.

**Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y., sends an honor guard and the academy’s Battle Standard to participate in the Memorial Service. USMMA lost 144 midshipmen in World War II. Since the academy’s founding in 1943, midshipmen have been involved in every major military action, including today’s war on terror. This makes the academy unique among the nation’s five service academies.

The U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command holds a wreath-laying ceremony also on National Maritime Day. The ceremony honors the civilian seafarers who gave their lives manning U.S. Navy vessels involved in the transport of vital supplies. It also honors the Navy Armed Guards who sailed on merchant vessels, an oft-overlooked group of servicemen.

Civilian seafarers helped to build and defend the United States. Fredericksburg began as a colonial shipping port. Shipping commerce is vital to our country’s economy. In time of war gallant seafarers have come to the aid of our armed services—delivering troops, equipment, and food, often putting themselves in grave and mortal danger. As we celebrate Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day, please remember those who served along with our Soldiers, Pilots, Sailors, and Marines. And fly the flag proudly on May 22 each year in observance of National Maritime Day.


Merchant Mariners do not automatically have veteran status. In fact the Secretary of the Air Force (not even its own branch of service until after WWII) blocked granting veteran status and rights four times!


The judge ordered the Board to reconsider their denial and the Board granted veteran status to most WWII mariners on January 19, 1988. Mariners who went to sea after August 15, 1945, serving in wartime in hazardous waters, got veteran status on November 11, 1998.

One of the arguments against granting status is the civilian nature of their job. “They get paid more.” One argument for veteran status is the hazardous conditions of war time seafaring and the disproportionate casualties the merchant marine suffered during WWI and between Aug. 1945 and Dec. 1946 (as well as other conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars).

To support this reason for veteran status, compare casualty numbers to the total number of personnel per branch to determine the percentage lost during WWII.

Service Number serving   War Dead
 Merchant Marine 243,000* 9,521**
 Marines  669,108  19,733
 Army  11,268,000  234,874
 Navy  4,183,466  36,958
 Coast Guard  242,093  574
 Total  16,576,667  295,790

*Number varies by source and ranges from 215,000 to 285,000. War Shipping Administration Press Release 2514, January 1, 1946, lists 243,000 **Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore


Service Number serving   War Dead  Percent   Ratio
 Merchant Marine 243,000* 9,521** 3.90% 1 in 26
 Marines  669,108  19,733  2.94%  1 in 34
 Army  11,268,000  234,874  2.08%  1 in 48
 Navy  4,183,466  36,958  0.88%  1 in 114
 Coast Guard  242,093  574  0.24%  1 in 421
 Total  16,576,667  295,790  1.78%  1 in 56

*Number varies by source and ranges from 215,000 to 285,000. War Shipping Administration Press Release 2514, January 1, 1946, lists 243,000 **Total killed at sea, POW killed, plus died from wounds ashore


Veterans Day

November 12, 2014

Yesterday, Nov. 11, was Veterans Day. I have so many family members to be grateful to for their service. Too many to name.

Obviously the question of veteran status for merchant mariners comes up. It is a controversial history. It is sad to say that World War II merchant mariners did not receive veteran status until 1988. I met some of the men who worked tirelessly to make that happen. Merchant mariners can still receive veteran status if they participate in supply transport to current era conflicts. I know that Desert Shield/Storm had mariner vets and even some later conflicts. I’m not sure if the current conflicts have resulted in medals and veterans… something to research.

Yesterday an opinion piece was published titled: When Honoring Vets, Include Merchant Marine. It is a good article and inspiring to know that men like Eisenhower and MacArthur saw the invaluable service of the men in the merchant marine.

On a message board of spouses yesterday, the question was posed about how do we explain this life, who is a vet and who isn’t, how we’re different from the armed services, etc. I couldn’t help myself and had to correct everyone that there is no S and they are mariners, not marines–that will go a long way in differentiating the merchant marine from the other branches. I couldn’t help myself–old habits die hard.

Just an additional little share: A high school classmate of mine, an army vet, wrote an article about how to show appreciation to vets in general. Also a good read. How To Show A Veteran Your Appreciation. Good suggestions… I think I have a service project for my scouts in the near future.

I am thankful to the men and women who serve. For the most part, the veterans I know are humble and patriotic and proud of their service. I know there are serious tragedies and much wrong with our military and very few come out of their time of service unchanged. Some have serious gripes about our military and those in charge and a nation that has thrown away so much. They may not even want to be thanked but I appreciate them anyways, especially one in particular. Maybe he would rather be thanked by seeing a world that makes a difference, that changes the status quo, that makes the world a place where we don’t need armies and navies. A world that truly understands freedoms and doesn’t blindly hand them over. Yes, our veterans deserve that too.


Let’s Not Forget The Merchant Marine on Memorial Day, OK?

May 26, 2014

Let’s Not Forget The Merchant Marine on Memorial Day, OK?.


Thank you, Enchanted Seashells, for this reminder of the oft overlooked sacrifices of the Merchant Marine. Couldn’t have said it better.

I would be interested in seeing current data on civilian ships used in conflict today. I know that the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the ONLY federal military academy to have students (midshipmen) in war zones during its entire history, up to and including the present.


Straight Out of James Bond…

September 10, 2013

Just FYI–life is good. Busy but good. I’m not blogging regularly because life is so good, not out of feelings of failure. I promise, when life slows down I will post more. But this is for you Enchanted Seashells. I’m a football widow tonight so I have some time…

I’ve posted before about pirates, when I first learned the still exist today and how I reacted to recent pirate attacks. See Pirates Are Real.

But there are other dangers. Other realities. When 9-11 happened, the Chief (then a 1st A/E without a permanent assignment) was home for an extra two weeks because he had covered for another due to a personal tragedy. In the aftermath of that national tragedy we all know the hassles of air travel and new TSA restrictions we all endure now. The Chief cannot travel with as much equipment as before; he’s usually flagged for inspection because of his short-notice ticket purchases; and I’m flabbergasted that Transportation Security Authority personnel are not familiar with Homeland Security issued TWIC cards for a form of identification. (TWIC: Transportation Worker Identification Credential)

Everyone should remember the big emphasis on Air Marshalls being put on planes. Most people do not know that they toyed with putting Sea Marshalls on commercial vessels coming into ports. I remember asking the Chief about it. *If* I remember correctly he was not thrilled with the idea but he’d say things like, “Air travel is by far safer than our ships and ports and people don’t realize it.” Then he’d tell me things about the vulnerability of our ports and how easy it would be to cripple our ports and shipping infrastructure. I’ve often accuse the Chief of being a bit morbid. I guess while having Sea Marshalls would offer necessary protection, even Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation had to see that the logistics of implementing such a program was so prohibitive, it never came about. (The Chief says it was a short-lived, pain in the rear program domestically.) I try to forget and block out what the Chief has told me.

So there is an old World War II saying: Loose Lips Sink Ships. You just never knew who might be listening in on your conversations, no matter how secure you thought you were, putting Our Boys in jeopardy. Families were kept in the dark about where sailors were headed.

Today there are any number of websites you can access to track real-time data on from the required automated identification systems (AIS). In theory, isn’t it great to be able to show little Johnie where Daddy is on any given day? But I still wonder about the value of this, especially in this day of piracy and terrorism.

Is the Chief’s morbidity rubbing off on me?

After this next tale you’ll understand that another dose of reality chipped away at my naivety.

A few years after 9-11, the Chief was sailing 1 A/E still but with a regular ship. He was actually due to come home that week but the Captains were switching out too and you can’t have a total turn-over without some overlap. So the Captain got to go home first and the Chief would have one more trip up the coast. It was a Saturday night. I was scrapbooking with a friend, the girls were in bed. The phone rings.

“If you see anything on the news, I’m okay.”

“Um, okay.”

I let it go for a little bit, until my curiosity got the better of me (my friend marveled at my self-control. I started searching on the internet for news from his location. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing on the national news either. My friend went home close to 11 PM. I admit I was feeling a little anxious.

Another phone call.

“Well all the other guys called and told their wives though they weren’t supposed to. The deck watch saw a diver in the water. You know, all decked out and with those personal propulsion units straight out of James Bond.”

Uh, okay.

“All non-essential personnel have been evacuated. The Captain, Chief Mate, Chief Engineer and 1 A/E are essential.” The Captain and his relief who had just arrived had to both stay onboard, not making the leaving Captain’s wife too happy about the delay.

Um, yeah, you’re essential to me! I want you off that ship! The Chief proceeded to tell me that U.S. Coast Guard and the port’s police, fire & rescue were all swarming the place. They were stuck for probably another 12 hours. I asked if they were going to put divers in water to examine the hulls. The Chief tells me, “no, this is a zero viability port, only a couple of feet of draft with a couple knot current. It could take 100 divers three days to examine every inch of the hulls in these conditions.”

They were cleared to return to their activities after those 12 hours. I guess they figured if nothing blew up within that time period it wasn’t going to. But they were also closely monitored while leaving port. Just in case.

Then I had to ask: What would a diver be doing so close to the boats like this?


What? This is when the Chief lamented about all the data so openly shared. Any drug smuggler can have a diver attach a package to a hull in one port, know it’s destination and general time of arrival, and another diver is waiting in the next port to pick up the package.

Wow. I really didn’t need to know this.

Yes, it can be comforting to know where the Chief is … and I’ve watched him on the National Geographic Panama Canal cameras twice … but I just have to wonder how smart it is to have all this easy access and open data.

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